Daniel Janaka © 2018
All Rights Reserved
“I never do this right. It’s like every time is the first time for me.”
Jimmy struggled to quiet his shaking hands as Luke took a drag from the bowl, resting his free hand on the steering wheel. Jimmy had fantasized about being close to him for weeks, but the confidence he’d so naturally possessed in his daydreams was nowhere to be found, all the charisma and charm replaced instead with a resounding fear that shot through him like an electric charge of restlessness. His leg fidgeted, bobbing up and down to its own chaotic rhythm. His whole body trembled.
“It’s freezing in here,” he noted, hoping to hide his nerves behind the chill.
“Sorry, it takes a while for the heat to warm up.” Luke reached for the air vent and adjusted its direction, guiding it toward Jimmy. “That should help.”
Luke pulled another waft of smoke deep into his lungs, holding it in for a few seconds before gently releasing it into the air. Jimmy watched out of the corner of his eye, trying not to stare but unable to look away. Luke’s adorably lanky arms remained suspended for a moment as he emptied his lungs. His skin was pale, his nostrils highlighted by a soft pink glow. His shaggy hair crowned his boyish frame, an unorchestrated mound of waves and curls.
The streetlight above flickered, struggling to illuminate the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood, abnormally free of any distraction. No pedestrians, no traffic, none of the usual late-night clamor. The hybrid cinema-bar was only a block ahead. Its sign shone in the distance as Jimmy peered through the dirty windshield.
A group of rowdy men exited, interrupting the silence with their laughter as one man pulled out a cigarette before passing the pack along. The twenty-minute intermission between screenings provided a welcome opportunity to grab a smoke, use the bathroom, or be alone with a dangerously captivating new friend.
It had been a challenge to quiet his overactive mind while trapped in the dark theater—sitting so close, feeling the accidental graze of Luke’s arm against his own. He had been forced to keep his eyes fixed on the screen ahead as he struggled to absorb the subtitles that fired off one after another while his mind ran in circles, left only to imagine those puffy eyes surrounded by soft dark circles like remnants of a constant lack of sleep. When the first film had reached its finale—the score rising in an unnecessarily epic crescendo—the lights slowly rose, illuminating the sparsely filled space.
Jimmy hid a yawn as Luke leaned in and whispered, “I don’t want to sound like a freak, so of course no pressure, but I have some pot in my car if you want to smoke a little before the next one. It might be more fun to watch it with a buzz.”
It didn’t exactly fit the construct of what Jimmy had in mind for the evening, but the warmth of Luke’s breath as it grazed against his ear thwarted any desire to refuse. It had, however, been some time since his last encounter with the unpredictable herb. He grew concerned about what he might do or say while stoned, fearful that the smallest dent in his armor of coolness could send Luke running back to Jersey.
Jimmy took the pipe, silently commanding his hands to cease their incessant shaking. His fingers grazed Luke’s in the exchange.
“Just pull it in, and let it sit in your lungs for a while before you let it out.” Luke reached over and took Jimmy’s hand, guiding it around the pipe in the right direction. His fingers were long and slender but knotted at the knuckles; his fingernails short and frayed, jagged around the edges. He placed Jimmy’s thumb over the small hole at the side of the pipe. “You’ve got to cover the hole when you pull in at first,” he explained.
Jimmy willingly took instruction, delighted to be touched. He pulled in a small, apprehensive drag and waited for a moment, holding the smoke in his lungs as he had been instructed to do. He glanced over at Luke who to his surprise was smiling in approval. Jimmy smiled back as he admired Luke’s childlike expression, more a grin than a smile whereby only the left side of his mouth was raised. There was something sinister about it, devious even, but charming. Steadily, Jimmy exhaled.
“There you go,” Luke exclaimed. “You got it.”
Jimmy smiled and flicked the lighter again, already a pro. He pulled in another drag, this one bigger.
“Now we’re talking,” cheered Luke.
A ball of fire barreled down Jimmy’s throat, scorching the terrain as it made its way to his lungs and filled them beyond capacity. He hurried to exhale but began coughing, his insides erupting as heavy clouds of smoke burst out. He heaved for air between attacks, desperately trying to regain composure.
“It’s—I took—oh, man.” His eyes filled to the brim.
Luke chuckled and placed a caring hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, holding back his amusement while he offered support.
The coughs grew fainter and the outburst subsided. Jimmy’s breathing returned to normal. He dried his eyes and sat upright, eager to recover. His head was lighter. Time began to crawl. He passed the bowl back to Luke who received it with another half smile before the glass vessel met his mouth. Luke cradled it with only the tips of his long, delicate fingers. His rosy lips puckered as he released another effortless stream of smoke. He moved with such precision, his methodical gestures casting a spell on Jimmy as he imagined Luke’s moist lips pressed against his own, pot-flavored saliva mixing.
Luke turned to Jimmy, catching him midstare.
Jimmy looked away, gearing his attention ahead.
Silence lay awkwardly suspended between the two. Jimmy’s leg sprang into action, bobbing up and down chaotically as he struggled to come up with something to say, anything to distract from his embarrassment. It was his dead dog, Sneakers, who entered his mind at that particular moment, becoming the topic of his incomprehensible rant. He anxiously traversed the subject, hoping that as long as he continued he might find a point, some meaningful way of making the story relevant.
Luke charged forward.
He pounced without warning, catching Jimmy off guard, a dangling word about Sneakers still struggling to escape, quashed by Luke’s eager lips. Jimmy sat frozen, suspended in a state of shock as his lips acquiesced. His eyes remained wide open. He glanced around to assess the situation in hopes of regaining consciousness. Luke’s eyes were sealed shut. Jimmy closed his.
Luke grabbed Jimmy’s face, pulling him closer. Jimmy kissed harder, adding his tongue to the mix in hopes of returning to his body and ending the sudden, ill-timed fit of numbness. Luke accepted, offering his tongue as well. It twirled around Jimmy’s, slithering in and out of his mouth with skill. The haze was lifting. Jimmy reached over, trying to touch Luke’s face, but Luke’s arms created an impenetrable barrier. He settled for his elbows before eventually resting his hands on Luke’s thigh. Jimmy caressed Luke’s leg as a rush of excitement filled him. Blood charged through his body. His senses now on overdrive, he could finally taste the boy attached to him, feel his moistness. He lunged forward, pushing Luke back into his seat. His hands were now free to roam as they pleased. He ran them up and down Luke’s torso, traversing his stomach and chest until resting on Luke’s face. Luke moaned softly. Jimmy leaned in farther, pressing closer, wincing in pain as the center console stabbed into his side, but continued on his mission to devour him.
Luke pushed forward, sending Jimmy crashing into the steering wheel.
The horn burst into action.
Their mouths broke apart as they surrendered to laughter, the tips of their noses still touching. Jimmy peered behind and noticed the men near the theater staring. He peeled away.
“I guess we should get going?” Jimmy suggested.
“I guess,” Luke replied as he wiped the sides of his mouth clean. “Don’t want to miss the next one.”
Jimmy’s heart pounded as he exited the car, flattening his shirt and rearranging his hair.
Luke approached, offering his hand.
Jimmy placed his hand in Luke’s, quieting his enthusiasm as best he could as they began down the sidewalk. Their fingers locked together as a sense of ease washed over him. There was no concern for the group of men watching as they approached. He no longer worried about being awkward or unprepared. The chatter of his overactive mind had quieted.
They entered the theater, still joined together, and took seats in the back row.
“More privacy back here,” Luke said with a wink.
Jimmy smiled brightly, unable to contain his excitement as the lights dimmed.
A loud and sustained beep snapped Jimmy back to reality.
He stared down at the massive copier. A few pages struggled to escape from the machine’s slim slot, the words PAPER JAM blinking ominously on the small screen. He tugged fiercely at the wad of copies until finally freeing them from their captor, and then gathered the pages and made his way out of the copy room. It had been some time since he had remembered Luke, a boy so removed from his present day he now seemed like a figure of his imagination. But somehow, Luke returned, offering Jimmy’s idle mind a moment of stimulation.
He walked past the bullpen of designers, most packing their things and scurrying out of the office, clearly ready to start the weekend, and arrived at the reception desk where he arranged the copies, discarding the wrinkled ones and placing the others squarely atop a pile of prints. The hardwood floors, scuffed and scraped from years of abuse, moaned as the office cleared. The sounds of movement bounced against the concrete walls and exposed ceiling like noises in a cave. The cries of the upheaval were muted only by the Kilim area rugs laid throughout the loftlike space, the vibrant colors and bold tribal prints only adding to the eclectic mix of sights and sounds. Jimmy smiled for a moment, taking it all in—the Friday evening rush.
Making copies and answering phones was never part of his master plan. He had imagined that by twenty-four he would be an adult with a significant job and a life to go with it. Instead, he spent most of his days directing phone calls and organizing lunch orders. When he had first interviewed at Freestyle Initiative, a boutique graphic design house, as hip as the décor of the office, he had been certain he’d found his place. It would only be a matter of time until they realized his potential, he thought. Only a matter of time until he was one of the designers, being creative and doing what he loved.
Instead, he remained stuck at the front desk, left only to examine the work others were creating, taking mental note of things he liked and things he would have done differently. He thought about leaving from time to time but dreaded the idea of starting over. He was, for the most part, happy enough. And there was Michael, his boss, who still managed to lull Jimmy into a state of complacency.
Jimmy had taken notice of the rugged, yet refined founder of Freestyle from the moment they’d shaken hands at his initial interview almost two years ago. By the time the meeting was over and Michael said in his deep, caring voice, “You’ll start on Monday,” Jimmy had been bewitched.
It’d been by no means the first time he had too quickly imagined feelings for a stranger. A simple glance from any worthwhile passerby was more than enough to send his imagination soaring. It had once been the friendly clerk at his local grocery store whose pearly-white smile seemed to be a definite sign of interest. On another occasion, it had been the new tenant in his building, who greeted Jimmy with a lingering handshake, too prolonged to go unnoticed.
“You’re still here?” Michael asked as he made his way to the elevator, leaving now that the office was nearly vacant, the chaotic bustling slipping into silence.
Jimmy had found it hard, at first, to manage his infatuation for Michael. His breath shortened whenever they were alone, his leg twitched uncontrollably. But his desires had subsided as they developed a familiarity with one another, becoming colleagues and even friends. Jimmy most appreciated their moments alone, the two lost in their own world as they discussed in private the men passing in and out of Michael’s life, whispering so as not to be heard by the rest of the office.
“I’ll be leaving soon,” Jimmy replied with a smile.
Michael was wearing a new shirt. He had likely changed behind closed doors, perhaps preparing for a date. It fit snug around his toned frame, buttoned all the way to the top. His pronounced Adam’s apple grazed against his collar as it rose and fell. Michael wished Jimmy well with a smile as the elevator doors closed, whisking away the dapper man along with the sounds of haste. The office was finally quiet.
Jimmy leaned back in his chair, taking in the moment of peace, a rare find in a city as bustling as New York. He would soon have to make his way to the subway station at Union Square, fending against the calamity of rush hour, squeezing too close to strangers as he journeyed to Charlie’s apartment in Brooklyn. He dreaded the forced conversations with Charlie’s friends, people he barely knew, the copious amounts of alcohol he would undoubtedly have to ingest in order to stay engaged. How easy it would be to take the train to Queens instead, to make his way home and cuddle up in front of the TV. But he had promised his friend, and he was already late.